Senator Greg Hembree (District 28) is one lawmaker who wants to make the scholarships more competitive. “We blew a 30 million dollar deficit in the lottery fund and that is not good,” explained Hembree.
The South Carolina Education Lottery helps cover college costs for more than 40,000 students, which is an important factor for many students pursuing higher education.
Brittany Benjamin received the Life Scholarship to attend the University of South Carolina. “The Life Scholarship definitely took a burden off my mom trying to fund a full time college student on a teacher’s salary in South Carolina. It helped me pay for books, housing, and food here at USC,” said Benjamin.
But in recent years a change in the state’s school grading system made it easier for students to get the required 3.0 GPA for the Life Scholarship, taking $30 million out of the lottery budget that funds the scholarships.
Senator Hembree added, “The system pays it for itself. The money generated from the lottery funds go to the scholarships and we don’t have to tap into the general fund budget to augment those holes that we’ve created.”
So to prevent having to take money from other areas lawmakers are proposing a change to the GPA requirement from 3.0 to 3.4, which is equivalent to the GPA on the previous grading scale. Lawmakers say it’s a way to protect the scholarship fund, but students say it could be hurting those wanting to go to college.
“That’s why it’s so important to make it sustainable for the long term. It sounds good, you’re letting more students get scholarship money, but in the meantime you’re going to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs to where nobody will be getting this money,” said Hembree.
But Brittany Benjamin disagreed, “The cost of private and public education has skyrocketed over the past 10 years, and raising the GPA will exclude a lot of students who worked hard in high school to qualify for scholarships and now they’ll be missing that aid.”
The SCEL pays for 3 different scholarships; the Hope Scholarship, the Life Scholarship, and the Palmetto Fellows Scholarship. All are merit-based scholarships.